Byrd, Melanie Billings Murders: Fourth Arrest Made, New Details

A fourth arrest has been made in the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings in Escambia County, Florida. Up to four more suspects are being sought. Another arrest is expected today. See update 8-10-09 below.

Billings Murderers’ Mug Shots

Gary Lamont Sumner, 31, was arrested on July 13th and charged with two counts of murder. He is in the Okaloose Country jail, and he has been there since Sunday, July 12. He was originally arrested for driving with an expired drivers license. Police say Sumner is connected to the murders through “witnesses and video surveillance.” Sumner is pictured bottom-left above.

Wayne Thomas Coldiron, 41, of Pensacola and Leonard Patrick Gonzales, Jr., 35, of Gulf Breeze have now been charged with “open” counts of murder.

Coldiron served two years in prison for a 1992 brawl in Tennessee that resulted in the death of another man. He was arrested in 1998 on charges of aggravated assault and served 21 months in prison. There is an unconfirmed report that Wayne Thomas Coldiron has done yard work for the Billings, and also unconfirmed is that the comment came from Coldiron’s stepdaughter. Coldiron is pictured above top-right.

The first person arrested, Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Sr., 56, of Pensacola has been charged with “tampering with evidence.” Allegedly he tried to repair and repaint a red getaway van which earlier reports say he was driving at the time of the murders. His bail has been doubled from $250,000.00 to $500,000.00. His sister is quoted as saying she has “no cause to associate with her brother.”

He was born like that — no good,” she said. “Leonard is a low life and his son is a low life. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. They are alcoholics and drug addicts, and they will do anything for money.

Gonzalez, Sr. has had 37 arrests in three counties in Florida with charges ranging from traffic citations to an aggravated assault arrest. He has also violated parole in the past. Gonzalez, Sr. is pictured above bottom-left.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr., the son of “Sr., is the father of 6 sons. He is married to Tabatha Gonzalez and the couple ran a nonprofit “Project FIGHTBACK, teaching self-defense to children. He also taught self-defense to women. According to the Pensacola News Journal:

Gonzalez’s good deeds make allegations that began unfolding this weekend even more unimaginable.

Last month, the Pensacola Seville Sertoma Club presented Gonzalez and his wife the “Service to Mankind Award” for their dedication to Project FIGHTBACK.“I’m really shocked,” Sertoma spokesman Gwinn Corley said Monday. “He was very personable when I met him, and I just never would have guessed he’d be arrested, period, let alone for this.”

This makes it hard to imagine that he would murder the parents of 16 children if he cared for children as these reports indicate. Read more quotes from the Gonzalez’ and see a photo of him conducting a self-dense class with children here, as well as quotes about him from a former mother-in-law. Gonzalez, Jr. was active on MySpace and is said to have made some interesting changes to his page “seven hours bfore the Billings were murdered. He changed his status to “making a move for humanity.” Gonzalez, Jr., is pictured top-left above.

Other new details are:

1) More than one vehicle was used.
2) The killers were wearing “black ninja garb,” and masks
3) The Billings were murdered about 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 9th
4) Ten minutes elapsed between the time the van arrived at the house and the time it departed
5) Nine of their 13 adopted children were in the home at the time of the murders.
6) A fifth arrest is expected today, July 14, 2009.

Police sources quoted in the Pensacola News Journal say there are several motives, but will confirm only “robbery.” Police are also not commenting on whether anything was taken from the house.

The Billings’ daughter, Ashley Markham said her parents had left plans for the children to stay together….” The family attorney, Crystal Collins Spencer, said “we plan to carry on their legacy….” Spencer also said that there are 17 children in the Billings family, 13 of them adopted and 9 at home on the night of the killings. Previous reports were that the Billings had 16 children.

Update 7-14-09 11:50 a.m. CDT:
Two additional arrests have made in the Billings murders. Donnie Ray Stallworth, 28, held on $1 million bond. His address is listed as Fort Walton Beach. Stallworth fled across state line to Alabama after the murders. Stay tuned. Another soon to be named.

Also arrested, two teenagers: Frederick Lee Thornton, Jr., 19, of Fort Walton Beach charged with two counts of murder. An unnamed 16-year-old was also arrested and charged in connection with the Billings’ murders.

Update 7-14-09 12:15 p.m. CDT:
In a live police conference, a spokesman has said that Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. is the “instigator” of the murders.

Robbery is one motive and items were removed from the home. The only item mentioned is a safe. Police will not say if the safe was recovered or give the size of the safe.

Wayne Coldiron and Leonard Gonzalez Sr., are tied. Gonzalez Sr. owns a power washing operation. Coldiron was a day laborer who occasionally worked for Gonzalez Sr.

At least two other were tied from another county and as part of an auto detailing group. The unnamed 16-year-old was a part of this group. According to police, he was “intimately” involved in the crime.

The crime was planned as a burglary but “spun out of control” according to the police spokesman. Police will not say if there was a “struggle.”

Police say they know who the shooters were but are not prepared to name them at this time.

Police say some involved “practiced” the crime. It was well orchestrated and organized.

Update 7-20-09:
Byrd Billings Human Trafficking?

Update 7-21-09:
A suspect in the Byrd and Melanie Billings murders has reportedly told police that Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. was the sole shooter in the killings. It appears from that report that it may have been 19-year-old Frederick Thornton who gave the police the information, but it is not entirely clear that the report came from Thornton. Thornton told police that after the murders all the suspects met up at the Magnolia Antique Mall, owned by “Pam” (Pamela Wiggins). Thornton said the safe taken from the Billings home was driven in the get-away van to Wiggins’ red minivan.

Wayne Coldiron, also under arrest for the murders named “Pam” as the driver of a maroon minivan.

Frederick Thornton and Gary Sumner, also under arrest, then got into Sumner’s blue SUV and drove to Wiggins’ antique mall for the meeting.

Update 8-10-09:
Today there are speculations unconfirmed by authorities that Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. was the lone shooter and planned a contract hit on the Billings, while telling those at the murder scene with him and now charged with murder, that a home invasion robbery, only, was planned.

A second safe containing $100,000.00 is said to have been found in the home that the robbers/murders could not access. Authorities have not confirmed this safe.

Another arrest has been with possible links to the Billings’ murders. Henry Cab Tice owned Byrd Billings $10,000 and Billings had filed a complaint against Tice in May 2008 for grand theft.
See Henry Cab Tice is Byrd Billings Arrested Debtor: Tice Billings Mexican Mafia?

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